Crisis PR: Five Steps to Take When a Crisis Breaks

Why Is a Crisis Communications Plan Important?

When, not if. For businesses and organizations, a PR crisis can appear at any time without warning. It doesn’t have to be a large crisis with extensive media attention, but even a small crisis has the ability to derail daily operations and could have a long-term impact on the operational health of the business.

Last week the launch of Bodega, a cell phone-unlocking vending machine for nonperishable items created by two former Google tech pros, received unanticipated backlash from individuals nostalgic of classic “bodega” corner stores found in neighborhoods across the country. The criticism on Twitter was so severe that one of the founders was forced to apologize in an article on Medium. Nevertheless, the bad press continues to roll in – and it makes sense. By calling their product “Bodega” they imply that the product is a replacement for the mom-and-pop shops that people have grown fond of on their street corners, without properly acknowledging that the product may very well put true bodegas out of business.

“When you set out to disrupt the status quo, don’t pick a status quo people love.” – Tim Gosman, Entrepreneur.com

What went wrong here? Unfortunately, the Bodega app does not have much of an Internet presence or even a social media presence to respond to the backlash, which is why co-founder Paul McDonald had to resort to apologizing through a Medium post. While McDonald explained that their intentions were not to offend people or appropriate the term bodega, the post stops short of an actual apology for the name or admission of mistake.

Here’s some insight from Fearey’s Crisis Communications team that could have helped this go better.

At Fearey, we stand behind transparency. If you make a mistake, own it and tell people how you are going to fix it. Soothe the public. Make them trust you again because of your honesty, your sincerity, your willingness to do the right thing.

In his apology, McDonald goes on to claim that despite what everyone thinks, they are not trying to put corner stores out of business. In fact, he says, the Bodega app founders love and admire bodega shops. However, his own words in an interview with Fast Company contradict that, as he states that with Bodega vending machines widely available centralized shopping locations won’t be necessary. Contradicting previous statements or denying actions – especially with disingenuous apologies – will not put your fire out. Our advice, don’t continue digging your grave.

Instead of defaulting to denial or contradiction, take a moment to be human, and consult a public relations firm or professional to help develop your message, statement, and response plan from a communications standpoint. Each situation is different, so a solution must be developed that reflects the crisis situation in question and puts a focus on transparency.


This Doesn’t Have To Be You!

Planning for a crisis of any and all sizes is critical to a fast response and long-term brand reputation management.

At The Fearey Group, we follow a five-step process to evaluate a crisis and help organizations begin a crisis response. That process includes:

  1. Convene your crisis team: When a crisis breaks it’s important to quickly pull your designated crisis team together and to enact any existing crisis communication protocols.
  2. Assess the crisis: Assemble he crisis team to present a round-table briefing to:
    • Determine the current stage of the crisis
    • Discuss expected developments in the next hours and days
    • Assess the high-level future impact to the organization and operations
  3. Determine messaging strategy: Establish your internal and external key messages and agree on an initial media response strategy, if needed. Options include:
    • Press conference
    • Individual media interviews
    • Proactive media statement
    • Reactive media statement
  4. Execute messaging strategy: Once a strategy is determined, execution is the next step. As the media strategy is executed, incoming media questions and interview requests should be tracked for future follow-up.
  5. Reassess and regroup: After the initial messaging strategy is executed, go back to step one. Bring the crisis communications team together to determine the next evolution of the strategy to manage the crisis and move toward long-term reputation recovery and repair.

Each crisis communications situation is going to present challenges that will impact your response. The best way to be ready for a crisis is to plan for a crisis. Creating a crisis communications plan and protocol will help your organization be ready to address a crisis and take steps to minimize the impact it has on long-term operations and reputation impact.

Interested in discussing your crisis communications preparedness? Give our team a call, we’d love to help!